Military Matters: Reform history -- Part 1

By WILLIAM S. LIND  |  June 2, 2008 at 6:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) -- When the world was young and hope dared live in Washington, a small group of people put together something called the Military Reform Movement. Its purpose was to measure U.S. defense policies and programs by the standard of what works in combat rather than who benefits financially. Launched in the 1970s, it peaked in the early 1980s and was gone by 1990. Why did it fail? It failed because, in a contest between ideas and money, the money always wins.

Two authors, Winslow Wheeler and Lawrence Korb, recently published a history entitled "Military Reform Movement, Military Reform: A Reference Handbook." Win Wheeler was in the thick of it at the time as a staffer to several members of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus. He is today director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the military watchdog group the Center for Defense Information in Washington. Larry Korb is a former assistant secretary of defense and today is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democrat-leaning think tank in Washington.

To make my own position clear, I was a staffer first to the senator who started the whole thing, Bob Taft Jr., R-Ohio, then to Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., who gave the movement its name and founded the caucus with Rep. Bill Whitehurst, R-Va. I was also part of the informal "Reform Group," which included retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Jeff Record and Norman Polmar, that did the intellectual work for the caucus.

The book's stronger chapters are those by Wheeler, who pulls no punches when discussing the ways various members of the U.S. Congress betrayed the reform cause.

The "Washington Game" is to create an image with the public that is a direct opposite of what the senator or congressman actually does behind closed doors, and the caucus saw plenty of that game. Standouts were Sen. Bill Cohen, R-Maine, who attended caucus meetings while busily working with Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, to block any reform of the Navy and who went on to be perhaps the most ineffectual secretary of defense in the Department of Defense's history; Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., later speaker of the House of Representatives, who really "got" reform and played a big role in the early history of the caucus, then did nothing to advance its ideas once he gained power; and Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyo., who also used reform to generate an image and now, as vice president, does nothing.

As I said years ago to a U.S. Marine friend who was trying to get a job on Capitol Hill, working as Hill staff is the post-doctoral course in studying spiritual arrogance. Wheeler's chapters dissect many an inflated reputation.


Next: Why the U.S. media failed to adequately cover military reform


(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.)

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